Monday, December 15, 2014

Grieving with Hope

Our funeral rose

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thess 4:13-18, ESV).

With our grief over my grandmother still fresh, my family is singing carols this year in a minor key. The yearning Advent hymns suit all the "firsts" we're walking through, all the milestones that make the loss real and raw and new again.

We've walked through receiving a box of cards and gifts we'd given her, including our wedding program and photos of the first year we set up the Nativity scene Nonni and Nonno had given us;

setting up that same nativity scene again this year;

moving her dining table and china cabinet, the site of countless Christmas Eve ravioli feasts, into my dining area;

letting their last legacy gift buy me a big-girl DSLR camera;

making the first trip back to Fort Worth since the funeral and realizing the exit for Nonni's and Terza's house now only belongs to Terza's family;

keeping Thanksgiving without a group speakerphone call to her in her absence from our table;

sorting the last of her personal effects by my dad and his siblings;

Dad's letting go of the car Nonni gave him when she moved out of her house and stopped driving. It's death was timely and untimely both. Certainly old enough to retire, but so close to the loss of its owner?

The winter birds have come. The juncoes flock to the patio to clean up the seed that falls from the feeder when the bigger birds come to dine. Papa cardinal, Nonni's favorite, makes a daily appearance. The scaups and gulls have arrived at the pond, but this year I won't be calling to tell her so.

Nor that I made the first batch of toffee and will send her some as soon as possible.

And so we grieve. We think the tears are subsiding, and then something prods the still-raw wound and we have a soggy day that seems to come out of nowhere.

Yet in the tears and in the firsts, I remember the words Nancy Leigh DeMoss quoted on the radio, words I didn't need at the time but squirreled away for the day I would:

"As Christians, we do not grieve without hope,
but neither do we hope without grief."
graphic and photo courtesy of

The key lies in the 1 Thessalonians passage which began this post, and in its cousin in 1 Corinthians 15. The apostle Paul acknowledges the Thessalonians' sorrow for their fellow believers who had died (or "fallen asleep"). He doesn't tell them to keep a stiff upper lip and dry their tears. At the same time, he exhorts them "not to grieve as others do who have no hope."

The Christian grieving the death of a Christian has hope, even in the loss, because the Christian has the sure and certain promise of a reunion with those who have died knowing and trusting Christ. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, all who know Christ will be "together with Him" and "always with the Lord" when He returns.

So we grieve, but we grieve with hope. Beth Moore captures the paradox in her recent study Children of the Day, which examines the Thessalonian epistles:

Grief is the sacred love seat where we fellowship acutely in the sufferings of Christ. We are not glad to be drawn to that seat, but there we find Him if we're willing. Oddly, we also find a faith beyond what we thought we'd lost.... 
To the degree we have loved, we often mourn; but we can be whole again piece by piece if we accept what 1 Thessalonians 4:13 holds in its other hand. 
If one hand of solace holds permission to grieve, the other hand contains insistence of hope.... 
Life can be painful here. Loss is inevitable. So let us grieve when we must, but God forbid that we grieve as the hopeless do. In His hands, we find solace. In His heart, we find rest. In His time, we find meaning. In His eyes, we are blessed. In His strength, we're made mighty. In His light, morning breaks. In His Word, He has promised. In His coming, sleepers wake" (Children of the Day, 104-105).
Advent, the present season of the church year, both completes and begins the circle of the liturgical calendar. It looks back in remembrance to the birth of Christ and leans forward to His coming again. This December my family is leaning forward more earnestly than we were 12 months ago. This is not a bad thing. An uncomfortable thing, surely, but not ultimately bad. We have confidence that someday, when we see Jesus face to face, we will also see and enjoy fellowship with not only Nonni but all our loved ones who have fallen asleep in Him. Even some loved ones we've never met save through paper and ink or pixels on a screen.

Even in loss, we can light the hope candle on the Advent wreath because for the Christian, death is not "good-bye" but "ta-ta for now." Our blessed hope draws nearer by the day, and then there will be no more death, no more tears. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

And we will always, always be with the Lord.

Laura Boggess

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